When I left Utah for my Ph.D. program at Virginia Tech I got accused by one of my fellow students of believing in "blood atonement." I had never heard of it and it certainly was not one of my beliefs. Naturally, I resented him telling me what my beliefs were.
Why this idiotic idea persists I can only speculate and the Salt Lake Tribune article does present some ideas. A thorough search of lds.org brings up only two references to it and they are instructive. They consist of two statements that we do not believe in "blood atonement" and a proffered reason as to why it appealed to the public psyche originally.
The first is an Ensign article written in 1990 by Hugh Nibley:
Thus, no “blood atonement” is required of us, since the sometimes necessary sacrifice of our lives has nothing to do with atonement of our sins. Only one infinite and eternal sacrifice could pay for sin, but God may still expect us to sacrifice our lives if the need should arise as we struggle to build up the kingdom of God on earth.The second is a New Era article from 1972 written by two English professors at BYU commenting on "Mormon Fiction."
Furthermore, what people heard about the Mormons as they gossiped over the back fence or sat in the barbershop was often twisted and shaped to appeal to the popular appetite for the lurid and sensational: secret rites, priestly orders, blood atonement, polygamy, and white slavery.The only other reference is in Institute materials by Robert Millet in The Religious Educator in 2003. See pages 18-19.
Let me illustrate with an experience I had just a few months ago. A Baptist minister was in my office one day. We were chatting about a number of things, including doctrine. He said to me, "Bob, you people believe in such strange things!" "Like what?" I asked. "Oh, for example," he said, "you believe in blood atonement. And that affects Utah's insistence on retaining death by a firing squad." I responded, "No, we don't." "Yes, you do," he came right back. "I know of several statements by Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and Jedediah Grant that teach such things." "I'm aware of those statements," I said. I then found myself saying something that I had never voiced before: "Yes, they were taught, but they do not represent the doctrine of our Church. We believe in the blood atonement of Jesus Christ, and that alone." My friend didn't skip a beat: "What do you mean they don't represent the doctrine of your Church? They were spoken by major Church leaders."
I explained that such statements were made, for the most part, during the time of the Mormon Reformation and that they were examples of a kind of "revival rhetoric" in which the leaders of the Church were striving to "raise the bar" in terms of obedience and faithfulness. I assured him that the Church, by its own canonical standards, does not have the right or the power to take a person's life because of disobedience or even apostasy (see D&C 134:10). I read to him a passage from the Book of Mormon in which the Nephite prophets had resorted to "exceeding harshness,. . . continually reminding [the people] of death, and the duration of eternity, and the judgments and the power of God, . . . and exceedingly great plainness of speech" in order to "keep them from going down speedily to destruction" (Enos 1:23).